What does 1 Thessalonians 5:17 mean?
ESV: pray without ceasing,
NIV: pray continually,
NASB: pray without ceasing,
CSB: pray constantly,
NLT: Never stop praying.
KJV: Pray without ceasing.
In this verse Paul encourages the Thessalonian believers to pray continually. Naturally, this does not mean to be in a state of prayer during every waking moment. Rather, we ought to be in a constantly "prayerful" state, and frequently speaking to God in actual, dedicated prayer. Even in the midst of trials, believers should recognize the immeasurable value of maintaining fellowship with God through frequent prayer.
Jesus is the supreme example of what it means to pray continually. He taught His disciples to pray (Matthew 6:5–13). He prayed before feeding the five thousand (Matthew 14:19–21). He prayed when He blessed the children (Matthew 19:13). He prayed in the morning (Mark 1:35) and in the evening (Mark 6:45–47). He prayed for His disciples and for all subsequent believers (John 17). He prayed in the Garden of Gethsemane (Matthew 26:36–42). He prayed from the cross (Luke 23:34).
The apostle Paul, too, prayed continuously. He prayed from prison at midnight (Acts 16:25). He prayed after giving a charge to the elders of the church at Ephesus (Acts 20:36). He prayed at Malta (Acts 28:8). He prayed for Israel (Romans 10:1). He prayed for the churches (Romans 1:9; Ephesians 1:16; Philippians 1:4; Colossians 1:3–12).
First Thessalonians 5:12–22 gives the Thessalonian believers a series of exhortations. As children of the day, who were anticipating the Lord's return, they needed to live righteously. As a church, they needed to relate well to their leadership. Paul calls upon them to treat all their fellow believers kindly and patiently and to do good to one another. Paul admonishes the believers to be joyful at all times and to keep on praying. Constant thanksgiving was to mark their lives. Further, Paul tells his readers not to quench the Holy Spirit or to have a negative attitude toward prophetic ministries. However, they were supposed to keep a firm grasp on teachings that they tested and found to be true. Lastly, Paul directs his readers to avoid every kind of evil.
First Thessalonians chapter 5 reiterates that the rapture will occur quickly, catching the unbelieving world unprepared. In contrast, Paul presents faithful Christians as those who are aware and ready for this event. This passage uses the contrast of day versus night to highlight those differences. Paul also completes his letter by offering various practical instructions. These include the need to be peaceful, hardworking, and forgiving. He also commends constant prayer and an attitude of joyfulness, before closing his letter with a command for this letter to be read aloud.
The end of chapter 4 discussed the nature of the rapture: a sudden, physical ''taking away'' of believers from the earth. Here, Paul continues to refer to this event's sudden and dramatic nature. A key analogy used in this passage is that of daytime versus darkness, and the concept of being awake and alert. As with many of Paul's letters, practical instructions make up the bulk of his closing statements. In particular, Paul adds a command that this letter be read aloud among all of the people of the Thessalonian church.
The apostle Paul's second missionary journey included a visit to the prominent Greek city of Thessalonica. This stood alongside a major land route and boasted a busy seaport. A number of individuals believed Paul's message (Acts 17:1–4), but an angry mob forced Paul to leave the city after his brief stay. Later, while in Athens, Paul received a glowing report: the believers at Thessalonica were growing spiritually and serving God fervently. However, they had questions about the Lord's return, including what happens to a believer who dies before that day. And, as all churches do, they had some areas in which they were falling short. In Paul's first letter to the Thessalonians, written about AD 51, he addresses these developments. Paul expresses gratitude for the Thessalonian believers' spiritual progress, and frequently makes references to Christ's impending return.
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